Sunday, March 6, 2011

When package information lets you down

Blue Hill Bay, sold at Costco Wholesale, is distributed by Acme Smoked Fish Corp.



Once in awhile, I am disappointed in a product I buy from Costco in Hackensack, and that's the case with smoked steelhead trout sold under the Ruby Bay label. 

In this case, though, it's the Acme Smoked Fish Corp. that is to blame -- for leaving out important information on the origin of the fish and distracting me and other shoppers with meaningless claims.

At Costco on March 1, I bought a 12-ounce package for $9.49 -- or about 80 cents an ounce. That compares to 96 cents an ounce for Kirkland Signature smoked wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, which contains no preservatives.



English: Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) f...
Wild sockeye salmon. (Wikipedia)




Unfortunately, the Ruby Bay package doesn't tell you this is farmed fish, as I learned by calling Acme Smoked Fish. However, I didn't ask where the fish was farmed. 

On Friday, I looked into Costco's fresh-fish case, and saw farmed steelhead trout. The label said it was from Chile and that it was colored artificially by chemicals in the feed. 

So, is Acme's steelhead also colored artificially? The label says it's "All Natural" and contains "No Preservatives."

Anyway, although the steelhead tastes good, it pales when compared with the smoked wild sockeye salmon. I have a few ounces of the former left, but once it's gone, I'll never buy it or any other Acme Smoked Fish Corp. product.

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37 comments:

  1. Acme Fish (any Warner Bros. cartoon fan worth their salt must LOVE that name) is one of the biggest players in the commercial fish game - not surprised their product contained crap.

    Thanks for the heads up!

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  2. You're welcome.

    Unfortunately, most of the smoked fish sold at Costco is farmed, and most of the salmon is artificially colored, too.

    If you must have lox, go with the smoked wild sockeye.

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  3. I don't suppose you know how sockeye salmon got its name. Well, I'll tell you how. One day Alfonse Palin, who just happens to have ben Sarah Palin's grandfather, was out fishing in an Alaska river when an 8-foot tall, 600 pound grizzly bear entered the river a few hundred feet away. Said bear took a swipe at a salmon that had just jumped out of the water and sent the salmon flying. And guess where it landed, hitting ol' Alfonse right in the face. As that was the only salmon he caught that day, he didn't tell anyone how he managed to catch it, but he told his family they were having sockeye salmon for dinner that night, and the name stuck. Bet you didn't know that.

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    1. that's just not true....

      As quoted from Wikipedia:

      "The name "sockeye" is an anglicization of suk-kegh (sθə́qəy̓), its name in Halkomelem, the language of the indigenous people along the lower reaches of the Fraser River (one of British Columbia's many native Coast Salish languages). Suk-kegh means red fish"

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    2. Just watched Salmon Wars, amazing documentary on the ill effects of aquaculture and some new and improved fish farms, done in containers, with filtered water systems and no colouring or antibiotics or pesticides! Hope the industry moves quickly to create healthy fish!

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  4. Aaron, you're a font of little-known information. Glad you're a reader.

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  5. what about Costco's frozen farmed steelhead trout from Chile - same bad news? The samples were great but, before I buy any, I wonder if it was raised with chemicals, etc.??

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  6. what about Costco's frozen farmed steelhead trout from Chile - same bad news? The samples were great but, before I buy any, I wonder if it was raised with chemicals, etc.??

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  7. I have heard some disquieting things about farm-raised fish from Chile, so I would avoid the steelhead trout you mention.

    I see lots of farmed fresh steelhead and salmon at Costco, and believe they come from Chile, too. The salmon label says it is colored artificially by chemicals in the feed.

    Another issue with farmed fish is what they are fed. Some are fed food pellets made from other fish, and fish farmers are always trying to cut the ratio of let's say three pounds of feed to one pound of fish raised.

    Whole Foods Market is the only retailer that certifies its farmed fish is being raised without antibiotics or an adverse impact on the environment.

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  8. I should add that Costco sells lots of frozen wild-caught fish -- sockeye salmon from Alaska, mahi-mahi and so forth -- all of which are better choices than frozen farmed fish.

    Sometime in June, fresh sockeye salmon fillets will start showing up in the fish case. Now, you can find, wild-caught fresh haddock, Pacific cod and flounder -- all of them terrific.

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  9. As of December 1, 2011, Costco has stopped selling its Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon. The company told me today that it wasn't selling enough to justify the cooler space that it occupied.

    I am now searching for a reasonably priced alternative.

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  10. Thanks, Russ.

    It was missing for about a week at my Costco in Hackensack, N.J., but I found some on my last visit, which was on Dec. 7.

    Good luck finding a reasonably priced alternative. Most other smoked wild salmon is wildly priced.

    I don't know where you live. In North Jersey, Fairway Market and Whole Foods Market, both in Paramus, stock smoked wild salmon. I'm sure all other Whole Foods do as well.

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  11. My husband said the steelhead trout from Costco is fed the same stuff flamingos eat naturally to get their pink color. I had no idea that Flamingos are actually white and turn pink from their diet. anyway please correct if misinformed as we buy the sh trout monthly and eat it steamed for breakfast often.

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  12. There is nothing on the label to that effect.

    I don't think flamingos get their color from what they eat.

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    1. Yes, flamingos get their color eating some red/pink water creatures from the lake.

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    2. Flamingos are pink or orange or white depending on what they eat. Flamingos eat algae and crustaceans that contain pigments called carotenoids. For the most part, these pigments are found in the brine shrimp and blue-green algae that the birds eat. Enzymes in the liver break down the carotenoids into the pink and orange pigment molecules deposited in the feathers, bill, and legs of the flamingos.

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    3. At Whole Foods Market recently, the fishmonger said the farmed salmon sold by the organic food chain is colored with yeast, but other farmed salmon, especially the stuff selling for $4.99 a pound, is colored with chemicals in the feed. The contrast in color between farmed and wild was dramatic. Wild salmon's deep orange-red color has undeniable eye appeal.

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    4. Salmon gets its color from eating crustaceans. It's the carotenoids that give salmon it's color. Most wild salmon populations in the world are orange or red because of this. There is a wild population of salmon somewhere in Eastern Europe (I forget where) with naturally gray flesh. This is because carotenoids are absent from its natural diet.

      With that said, farmed salmon are usually given canthaxanthin or astaxanthin in their feed, to make it's flesh red. The vast vast vast majority of farmed salmon in the markets are Atlantic salmon, while most Pacific salmon species are wild caught. Just as the color in wild Pacific salmon can vary (i.e. Sockeye is redder than Coho), so can the color in Atlantic salmon, whether farmed or wild (though you won't find any of the latter in markets).

      So while the color of farmed Atlantic salmon is a result of the additives in its feed, the fact that it's a completely different species is the primary factor in the color difference you see. Heck, they're not only a different species, they are in a different genus from Pacific salmon species!

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  13. Astaxanthin, an oxycarotenoid, is what gives salmon and flamingos their color. It is present in copepods that are natural food in wild environments. Many salmonid farmers use feed that contains Hoffman La Roch's synthetic astaxanthin, which is a "color additive" regulated by FDA (CFR Title 21 Part 73). Astaxanthin contains several chiral isomers. The astaxanthin present in wild salmonids has a certain ratio of these isomers, and is "optically active". Synthetic astaxanthin has distinctively different ratios and is optically inactive. These compositional differences and resulting properties are the basis for methods to analytically determine the presence of synthetic astaxanthin.

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  14. So, basically, you're saying it's an artificial coloring agent.

    I've always heard salmon get their color from the shrimp and krill they eat while maturing in oceans.

    I'd still rather eat wild-caught salmon than the farmed variety. The New York Times reported seven or eight years ago that salmon farmers are shown a color palette so they can custom order feed that would give their fish the desired hue.

    When you see wild and farmed salmon side by side, as at Costco Wholesale, the wild fish have a deeper color that is evident from 10 feet away.

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    1. Fat content and salmon variety also affect flesh coloration. So when you are looking at wild and farmed salmon side by side at Costco, you are NOT looking at two identical salmon species. Most likely you are looking at farmed Atlantic salmon and wild Pacific salmon.

      Atlantic salmon generally has a higher fat content that Pacific salmon (especially higher than Sockeye), so it will be typically be lighter in color. The higher fat content does make Atlantic salmon taste "fishier," but it also makes it easier to cook without drying it out. The same can be said about wild caught Copper River sockeye, which sells at Costco for 2x the price of "regular" sockeye. The higher fat content (and marketing) is what drives up the price.

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    2. I read an article in The New York Times more than a decade ago that salmon farmers are shown a color palate by the feed sales people, and asked which color they would like their fish to be.

      It has nothing to do with fat content. How would veins of fat affect color?

      I have no reason to believe farmed salmon are being raised in the same manner as described in that article.

      And with wild salmon available year-round fresh, frozen or smoked, there is no need to add colored fish to your diet.

      Plus, Costco's wild cod is now the legendary Atlantic fish that once fed the world.

      So, farmed salmon is really the mediocre choice.

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    3. Also, Copper River salmon isn't two times the price of other sockeye. Prices have gone up for other sockeye and last year, Costco sold wild coho salmon.

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  15. Although raised a city girl, I now live in Alaska and am lucky enough to catch our own wild salmon which is deep orange in color. We clean it, cut it and freeze it. We mulch all the heads and scraps into our organic garden.

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  16. Boy, I really envy you.

    In North Jersey, I enjoy fresh wild salmon for only about five months, then have to buy the frozen stuff.

    In late May or early June, we get salmon from the Copper River in Alaska. Are those the females, before or after they lay their eggs?

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  17. Smoked Salmon and lox are not the same thing.

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  18. Please tell us the difference. I believe it has something to do with salt content.

    Lox is my shorthand reference to smoked wild salmon, the only kind I eat, as in "wild lox."

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    1. Lox is cold smoked, so it has a "raw" texture.

      Smoked salmon doesn't really say much. It can be cold smoked (i.e. lox) or it can be hot smoked, with a cooked, flaky texture.

      Traditionally, lox was made with Atlantic salmon (lox is Germanic in origin), but now it's made with all sorts of varieties.

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    2. Costco's Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon tastes raw in the good sense, as if you are eating a seasoned slice of sashimi.

      It's perfect over salad, rolled up with a slice of cheese and dipped in Dijon mustard and added to eggs, which is when it cooks a little and gets flaky.

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  19. The most commonly used color enhancer used in Chilean aquaculture is canthaxanthin. Canthaxanthin itself is a natural carotenoid found in many different plants. It is the natural coloring of apples and many other fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Canthaxanthin functions as an ultra violet photon absorber, a singlet and triplet oxygen quencher and free radical deactivator.

    I wish I could afford wild caught Pacific Salmon more often but since I am retired on a fixed, and somewhat restrictive, income I must eat what I can afford which is Chilean Steelhead Trout from Sam's Club. I've been eating it for years and I'm still kicking.

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  20. Thanks for your comment.

    I don't think artificial color can kill you, but I prefer all-natural fish eating its normal diet.

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  21. I have a MS in fisheries resources and have studied at worked at hatcheries and farms. The dye at farms is usually Canthaxanthin, a nmatural extract of shrimp shells, to make up for the lack of krill. Some wild kings salmon don't eat much krill, or more-to-the-point, the herring they eat didn't get much krill to move up the food chain. It is harmless.

    People are easily swayed by fear-mongering. Of coure we'd all prefer wild pheasant to chicken, but it's not sustainable to feed 7 billion people wild food.

    Finally "wild" salmon label means it's a hatchery fish , released into the wild while young, so most of it's life and diet are wild. Truly wild, native-spawned fish should be left alone, too rare and many are endangered.

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  22. This last comment is just blowing smoke for the salmon farmers. "Natural extract" and "hatchery fish" released into the wild are patently false statements. Don't you have anything better to do? Use your degree to wipe your you know what.

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    1. I'm all for wild-caught and sustainable fishing. However, this statement just irked me, so I have to comment. First you denied that flamingos are colored pink by the crustaceans they eat--sorry, anyone with a couple of bio classes under their belt knows that one. (See? Degrees are good for something other than toilet tissue). Secondly, you admitted that you have no access to go fish for wild salmon, so where are you getting your info regarding "hatchery fish"?? I'm from Northern California, a few miles from a hatchery, in a family that LOVES to fish, so I can tell you that if you dam up a river, the salmon will never make it up to lay their eggs, so you must have hatcheries to facilitate that. Since Pacific salmon migrate thousands of miles, you better believe that loads of those Alaskan-caught salmon actually began their lives in hatcheries, just like the one I grew up near, all along the west coast. Had you just made those ill-informed statements, I would have ignored it, but to layer inflammatory language on top of ignorance is just unacceptable. Reminds me of one of my dad's favorite sayings: Better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

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  23. well said anonymous. .thanks for the education!

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  24. An article with some basic information about the colorant, some general risks concerning farmed Chilean fish, and an explanation why we're seeing more steelhead in the coolers at Costco...
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/05/theology-of-salmon-wild-or-farmed/#.UXxrOLU3uSo

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